Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Assert yourself

This page will help you to understand assertive and non-assertive behaviour and to plan how to express your needs in an assertive way.

Fight: aggressive behaviour (I win/you lose)

Aggressive behaviour entails expressing your feelings, needs and ideas at the expense of others; you stand up for your rights, but ignore the rights of others, and you try to dominate, even humiliate, others.

  • The attitude towards others is hostile and self-defeating.
  • Aggressive behaviour results in anger, self righteousness and possible feelings of guilt later.
  • You make other people feel demeaned, angry, hurt, ignored and resentful.

Belief: the other person doesn’t matter.

Payoff: you vent anger and achieve goals in the short term.

Problem: you become alienated from others, suffering feelings of frustration, bitterness and isolation.

Flight: passive behaviour (I lose/you win)

If you exhibit passive behaviour, you do not express your own feelings, needs and ideas; you ignore your own rights and allow others to infringe upon them.

  • You are inhibited and self-denying.
  • This results in you feeling anxious, disappointed, angry and resentful.
  • You make other people feel irritated (‘why didn’t you tell me?’), contemptuous (if you don’t respect yourself, why should other people?) and lacking in trust (because they don’t know what’s going on with you).

Belief: I don’t matter.

Payoff: you avoid unpleasant situations.

Problem: your needs are not met; anger builds up and feelings of low self-worth arise.

Flow: assertive behaviour (I win/you win)

The assertive person expresses their feelings, needs and ideas. If you are assertive, you are able to stand up for your legitimate rights in ways that do not violate the rights of others.

  • The attitude is expressive and self-enhancing.
  • Assertive behaviour results in confidence and self-esteem.

Belief: we both matter.

Payoff: common goals are more likely to be achieved; if this does not occur, there are feelings of self-worth which result from being straightforward. Self-confidence improves and relationships become open and honest.

Problem: you may become distanced from others who have not learned how to behave assertively and thus risk missing opportunities.

Expressing assertive behaviour

Exactly how you express assertive behaviour will, of course, vary according to the situation, but as a general rule, your words will follow the pattern described below.


Describe the situation or behaviour, while trying not to label the individual.

I feel...

Express your own internal reaction (without blaming or shaming).


Describe the results or consequences.

What I want...

If you have a desired solution you might share it, or leave the specific solution open by saying something like, ‘I would really like this to be different; what do you think?’

I appreciate...

Acknowledge your appreciation of their willingness to listen or efforts they have made, or support of the relationship in general

Be quiet...

Above all, listen, listen, listen!

Actively listen...

Tell me more. This is what I hear you saying and feeling...

For more on assertive behaviour, see the topic on Assertiveness.

Key points

The assertive person looks for win-win situations.

Even though the ultimate decision may not go the other person’s way, they will feel they have been listened to and respected.

When you are assertive, other people will know where you stand and are more likely to take your needs into consideration.